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I am a son of the South. A fifth-generation Mississippian. My ancestors fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. I grew up in a town where we honor our Confederate soldiers with two statues and a famous stained-glass window. I grew up with the old Confederate soldier Col. Rebel as the mascot for my high school and my college athletic teams.

We waved Confederate battle flags to cheer the Colonels (high school) and the Rebels (college). Our fight song was Dixie. When traveling to out-of-town games I would put two rebel flags on the front bumper of my Oldsmobile 88. I thought it looked like the ambassador's car for the Rebels. The cherished nickname for my university is "Ole Miss." It's a term slaves used to refer to the wife of the plantation owner. This is the culture I was steeped in.

Sometime in college I awakened to the realization that the Confederate flag was not a simple Mississippi version of a pom-pom or a benign symbol of our Southern heritage. I learned it was also a symbol of white supremacy and racism.

I remember how jarred I was when I first saw a Confederate flag stretched across the back trunk of a car headed to a racist rally, a car with the words "I hate n----- lovers" painted on its back window, and a face I can only think of as the face of evil, looking at me out of the driver's window not five feet from my face screaming, "Let's go git 'em," as we passed with windows open going in opposite directions. I had only seen cars decorated that way going to a football game.

I've seen enough that I connect that flag now more with white robes and burning crosses than with football games. I have some sense, a very small sense, of what that flag means to my black friends and neighbors. I can't truly feel in my bones what they feel when they see a Confederate flag, but I can feel enough of that to know I will never wave such a flag again.

That's why I signed the petition to encourage the leaders of the upcoming Bikes, Blues & BBQ motorcycle rally "to publicly discourage and condemn the display or flying of the Confederate Flag during the week long community events." (http://chn.ge/2aJHLOk)

Of course the Constitution protects free speech, and BBBBQ cannot legally ban the flag. But free speech is not the same thing as right speech.

The Apostle Paul cautioned Christians in Corinth not to misuse their freedoms. He urged them to use their freedoms for good. It may be, Paul said, that "'All things are lawful,' but not all things are beneficial ... not all things build up.'" (1 Corinthians 10:23)

Yes, we have a legal right to fly the Confederate flag, but we do not have a God-given right to do so.

Symbols are powerful. And their meanings can change. An ancient equilateral cross with four legs bent at 90 degrees has been a sacred and beloved symbol in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, dating back to before the 2nd century BCE, and also revered among Native Americans in our early history. The cross' name is from the Sanskrit word meaning "lucky or auspicious object," Swastika. Adolf Hitler changed its meaning for us. Today a vehicle flying a swastika sends a foreboding chill through me.

In the aftermath of the tragic mass shooting that killed the pastor and eight others at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston the state of South Carolina did the right thing. They removed the Confederate battle flag from the state Capitol grounds. That act was a symbol of compassion, good will and healing.

In protest, Confederate flags suddenly appeared on vehicles and in front yards across the South. I'm not sure what they intended to communicate with those flags, but it comes across as racist, even threatening in the aftermath of a massacre.

I have a friend who flies a Confederate flag on Robert E. Lee's birthday and on Memorial Day. I don't much like that, but I can understand it. He means well.

I cannot accept a benign motivation for other displays. Today, a Confederate flag on a motorcycle or pickup is a symbol of racism and aggression. It is a hurtful symbol. It is an insult and intentional affront toward our black neighbors and toward others of good will. For God's sake, don't use it.

BBBBQ leaders, discourage it. We don't do that in Fayetteville.

Commentary on 08/23/2016

Print Headline: Stop flying that flag

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